Great Southern, Western Australia
If I was to ask you what the largest wine region in Australia is, what would you think? Maybe the Barossa? The Riverina perhaps? In fact, in the very south-west tip of our wide, brown land we find not only the largest wine region, but the region with more sub-zones than anywhere else in the country- though perhaps the two are related. Today I will delve into the details of the Great Southern wine region and its sub-zones to establish why what makes the wines from this immense region tick.
The Great southern region of Western Australia stretches from the western coast to 200km due south inland, and from the southern coast 180km due north inland- as I mentioned, a fairly large region. Within this behemoth are 5 sub-zones, each of which I will go into further detail of below. Grapes can be taken from any of the areas and blended together, where it can use the Great Southern Geographical Indication (GI) on the label, though what has happened for much of Great Southern’s past is that larger, more influential producers from the Margaret River have bought fruit from here and blended it into their own wines, and just putting ‘Western Australia’ as the region of origin. This is changing however, as the quality and sub-regionality becomes clearer to the greater public. Now I’ll quickly go through the 5 sub-regions to show the diversity of the wines and styles.
Albany; is the most southerly sub region in Great Southern, and sits around the town of Albany, right on the coast of the Indian Ocean. This proximity gives Albany the most even and Mediterranean climate of any sub regions. The region receives the cooling “Albany Doctor” from the south every afternoon in the summer, which originates in Antarctica, meaning day-night temperature variation is quite large. Albany has an incredibly diverse range of varieties grown within it. At the moment Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most-grown, but Riesling, Shiraz and other Rhone varietals are gaining ground. The soils here are iron-rich laterite over granite and gneiss, which adds complexity to the wines with the diverse mineral additions it gives to the grapes (and the yeasts that make the alcohol).
Denmark; also sits on the coastline, receiving cool breezes from Antarctica, however is located more towards the west coast of WA, around the town of Denmark. This proximity of the ocean to both the west and south makes the region quite cool, and overnight temperatures here drop even faster than in Albany. As a result, cooler climate grapes are the norm here; Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay mostly, though there is a push for more cool-climate styled Shiraz/Syrah too. The soils here are the same as in Albany, again adding complexity to the wines.
Frankland River; is the most temperate, warm and therefore largest sub region in Great Southern. 75km inland from both southern and western coasts, the ocean has much less influence here, and the days get warmer, though this region is quite elevated, with most vineyards sitting between 150m and 300m above sea level, meaning overnight temperatures still drop quite rapidly. This mix of warm, sunny days and cool night, combined with the alluvial, gravelly soils of the region are perfect for Riesling and Shiraz, which are responsible for 50% of all production from this sub region.
Mount Barker; is where vines were first planted in WA in the 1960s, and is therefore considered the ancestral home of winemaking in the state. Mount Barker is much smaller than northern neighbour Frankland River, but has a similar elevation, soil type and therefore similar grape varieties are grown here- Riesling and Shiraz make up almost 60% of output here. Mount Barker is only about 50km from the southern coast, so receives more of the cooling afternoon breezes, meaning the wines from here have a touch more finesse and longevity when compared to examples from up further inland in Frankland River.
Porongurup; is the smallest sub region in the Great Southern, directly to the east of Mount Barker, 50km from the southern coastline. The region is named after the Porongurups, a group of domed granite peaks whose formation dates back many millions of years to the Precambrian Eon. Although only 7 miles (11km) from end to end, the peaks reach a height of 670m and are clearly visible from any vineyard in the region. This same granite is found in the soils of the Porongurup vineyards, which makes for a happy home for the most-grown varietal, Riesling, responsible for over 60% of production. Riesling from Porongurup is steely, citrusy, and can age for decades- well worth a look if you ever see one around.
So we find the largest wine region in Australia is not just about cheap cask wine, but is instead a diverse winemaking tapestry of landscapes. It has so much going for it- weather, soils, climate, all necessary to make world-class wines, however there is something the region has no control over that effects it; isolation. This region is almost 5 hours and over 400km away from Perth, which is the most isolated capital city in Australia, and in 2014 there were only 63 producers in the whole region. Hopefully this piece will shine a light on this high quality region, and next time you see the name Great Southern, or one of the sub-zones on a label, you’ll know where it comes from, and maybe even give it a try!
Wine Sales Manager